Arches National Park
The park comes alive at sunset and sunrise. At other times of the
day, the sun washes out most pictures; if all you have is the middle of the
day, take a polarizing or warming-polarizing filter along.
Be careful where you set your tripod - the cryptobiotic crust is right
Film: Unless you are photographing at sunrise or sunset,
use a saturated, warming film to restore some of the washed-out color.
Speed is sometimes an issue - beware the morning and evening breezes which
can whip up even the stiffest desert sagebrush into a raging swirl of green-brown,
and beware the dim light of the fin canyons, especially in Fiery Furnace.
On the other hand, if you are photographing out in the open, you do not want
your film too fast or the sun will ruin your shots.
What to Photograph, and When:
- Park Avenue: Park Avenue is not particularly co-operative
when it comes to morning and evening photographs. It is oriented North-South,
but the walls on either side leave the opposite wall in shadow until the
sun is well up. Pictures with sunset clouds, after the sun has set,
are probably the most colorful you can get in this spot. Otherwise
the best light is in mid-morning or mid-afternoon. However, the area
*is* scenic, and worth the effort you need to invest to get a decent shot.
There are nice abstract shots to be had walking down the trail, especially in
the wash area.
- Courthouse Towers: Although they share a similar orientation
with Park Avenue, the Courthouse Towers offer some excellent
sunrise and sunset pictures. The area is probably best at sunrise -
The Organ, as well as the Three Gossips and Sheep Rock,
are all well lit by the early morning sun. In the evening, only the
towers themselves have good lighting. (The Three Gossips may be shot backlit in the evening.) Just back the road towards
Park Avenue, the evening sun also provides some good shots of the
Petrified Sand Dunes looking out to the Windows area.
- Petrified Sand Dunes: The best shots of the Petrified
Sand Dunes are during the morning and evening, when the light rock of
the dunes is painted golden by the sun. Sunset pictures allow you to
frame the dunes in front of the Windows and the La Sal Mountains
. In the morning you either have to hike out into the dunes region,
or take pictures facing into the sunrise as the sun lights up the clouds
over the La Sal Mountains. Because the Dunes cover such a large
area, many of the pulloffs offer views.
- La Sal Mountains: These mountains offer a good backdrop
to many pictures at Arches. They are nice on their own, too, especially at
sunset, with snow capping the peaks. Some redrock spires standing in the
foreground add to the composition immensely.
- Balanced Rock: Balanced Rock makes an excellent sunset
picture. You can take a picture of its backside at sunrise, or silhouette
it against the morning sun if you desire. The views from the West and
North of the rock are best...
- Garden of Eden: The Garden of Eden is a confusing picture
at any time of day. As the densest rocks are along the east of the
Garden, the best pictures are at sunset. On a recent Winter trip, I was
able to get some excellent sunrise pictures in fog here.
- The Windows: The Windows are excellent either at
sunrise or sunset. From the main trail there are many excellent sunset
shots of the Windows themselves. Turret Arch is best
photographed from the bottom of the parking lot at sunset. At sunrise,
the best photos are from the primitive trail. Turret Arch may
be framed in the Windows at sunrise, or silhouetted from the
same angle at sunset. Double Arch is more difficult - because
of its location, it is best photographed on a sunny early to mid-morning;
bring a wide-angle lens.
- Delicate Arch: Delicate Arch is somewhat difficult to
photograph. The best photos are taken at sunset, framing the
La Sal Mountains from the viewing ridge or through the arch at the
end of the ridge. Even then, there are good seasons to do this and bad,
and the trip down after sunset can be challenging in the dark...
Photos taken during the day are prime candidates for program-mode exposure
failure - rely on spot-metering.
- Fiery Furnace: There are two limits to photography in
the Fiery Furnace area - dim lighting, and the pace of the tour
group. If you are with the tour, it may move along more quickly than you
would like. But the dim lighting of the fin canyons forces you to slow
down. It might be best to take the tour repeatedly until you know where
you are going, then get a permit to wander on your own.
- Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch: Sand Dune Arch
is in a narrow fin canyon. During the middle of the day, the light
shines directly down on top of the arch and the sand surrounding it, making
for a tough exposure. At other times of the day, no direct light enters
the canyon. I have seen at least one photograph of Sand Dune Arch
taken as you would a slot canyon - plan on taking pictures around 10-11am,
when the light is beginning to hit the wall beyond the arch, or at 2-3pm, when
it is hitting the wall behind you. Broken Arch faces West, but the
sunset light is partially blocked in some seasons by a fin in front of the arch.
I believe Summer is the proper time to photograph this arch; during the rest of
the year, mid-afternoon is better.
- Marching Men and Tower Arch: The Marching Men are
well oriented for sunset photographs - again, watch the evening hike.
Tower Arch is even better oriented for sunset (I think - easy to
get disoriented in the fins), but suffers from blockage by surrounding
- Skyline Arch: Skyline Arch is oriented well for
- Devil's Garden: Landscape Arch is best photographed
from sunrise to mid-morning. Pine Arch gets mid-morning sun (around
10am in Winter) and Tunnel Arch is a sunrise shot.
Wall Arch itself is very dark (an afternoon shot might pick up some
glow...). Double O Arch is a morning picture - the two trips I
took to that section of the trail were later in the day and the arches were
in shade. Dark Angel is best at sunset, but that's
a long walk back at dusk... Many abstract patterns found along the
trail are best photographed on an overcast day - I've seen nice lichens,
potholes, sandstone ripples, and dripstone in the park, mostly along this
- Wildlife: The park lizards are often photogenic
in the morning before they've had a chance to warm up too much. Later
in the day they get a bit fast... I've seen Mule Deer at
Delicate Arch, and seen fresh Desert Bighorn Sheep tracks along
the primitive trail at Devil's Garden (though not the sheep themselves).
In the Spring (March-May), the desert plants turn green and flowery,
adding a nice touch to the scenery.